I will use the expression ‘fall’ as suits my own needs an experience; for me it is that day, or those days where leaves are self-evidently falling from the canopy – today is one of those days. ‘Fall’ here in Sussex on England’s South Coast is therefore is building to a crescendo and having lasted a week to 10 days will be over. Autumn on the other hand came as temperatures belatedly dropped below 10 degrees C. I struggle to believe we even have a winter anymore – for winter there needs to be frost and temperatures below freezing sustained during the day. Snow helps. I’m sure there have been a couple of years over the last decade where ‘winter’ in this sense never happened … autumn and ‘fall’ were late, winter tried but failed to transpire and days later we were into an early spring. Such is life under climate change.
This is my third visit to William’s Wood and the second time I’ve inadvertently timed my walk with the shoot that chases ducks off the lake or pheasants out of the heath to the west. My views are no longer mixed: we should not be raising animals to eat, let alone shoot them for sport. Yet I am a crack shot. Age 8 to 10 I remember going out to shoots in Northumberland and southern Scotland with my father who went shooting most weekends in the season. He taught my brother and I to shot. I use the same techniques when taking photographs.
Knowing where to park up and how to enter the wood makes it straightforward to find William’s Wood and then continue on through Bishop’s Wood and Harvey’s wood, sticking to the public access footpaths courtesy of All Trails and Ordnance Survey Maps.
Park on the lane leading up to Bellevue Nursing Home (formerly Stonewick), once the home of William Knapman in whose name the wood beyond was bequeathed to The Woodland Trust by his wife Jane Knapman both of whom are remembered on a bench in the meadow 50m or so into William’s Wood.
It is a 500m walk from the drive to the Nursing Home to access William’s Wood. There is then a distinct fork, I’ve taken both; to the right is a long trail into the gill, onto open farmland, through other woods and lakes beyond – a right of way with a distinct sense of being hemmed in by fences, hedgerows of laurel or conifers and signs warning of Private Land. Best to go left and onto the edge of William’s Wood.
Williams Wood can be walked in a circular route in 30 minutes to 45 minutes, depending on how long you dawdle to admire the trees, the underground and gills. Bishop’s Wood beyond adds another hour.
As a Woodland Trust wood there is a management plan for William’s Wood that explains how the wood came into their ownership, its size, nature, problems, short and long term ambitions. On the ground you know you are in a Woodland Trust wood because of the quality of signposting, solid and generous boardwalks and bridges.
My timing is perfect. Leaves have been falling in abundance in places all week but there are just enough here still for the canopy in places to be an extraordinarily varied range of light to dark yellow, through orange, red, russet and brown with some auburn, scarlet or crimson.
My knowledge of trees and their leaves, let alone their trunks and silhouette is still too poor to identify any tree other than the obvious ones: I know my oak, maple and willow, but not my ash, larch or sycamore. This will come with experience. I assiduously use the ‘Picture This’ App, though this requires a good signal. I now know my liverwort at least, though I struggle with the different fungi and would never pick and eat a mushroom from the woods without expert advice.
Beyond William’s Wood there are long paths by one of the meadows, through stands of old larch and beech (I think), as well as oak. You can then double back above a deep or flooded fill where tress surely 200 years old or more create huge arches across the canopy and at this time of year litter the path in leaves.